Rutgers opens up Big Ten play in Wisconsin
With spring break in the rearview mirror and tournament season behind us, the Rutgers softball team will finally play its first Big Ten opponent with a three-game road trip against the Wisconsin Badgers this weekend.
Wisconsin (13-11), has one common opponent that the Scarlet Knights (15-14) have played in Pitt, and both teams went 1-1 against the Panthers. Ahead of Big Ten play, the Badgers are ranked seventh in the Big Ten Conference, while Rutgers is close behind in ninth.
The Knights will play three games in Madison, with a doubleheader on Saturday and a final game on Sunday. The game on Friday was canceled due to the weather.
Both teams have comparable hitting statistics, with Rutgers batting .254 collectively and Wisconsin batting .253, and the Knights hitting 18 home runs compared to the Badgers' 15. The difference comes in batting average allowed, where opponents are batting .269 off of Wisconsin, and .303 off of Rutgers.
Senior Rebecca Hall, the Knights’ first baseman, will arguably be the best hitter on the field for either team. Hall is hitting .392 with seven doubles, six triples, 5 home runs and 29 RBI’s. The Badgers’ best hitter is Kelsey Jenkins who bats .375.
As far as pitching goes, Wisconsin has the clear upper hand. With two aces on its roster in Kaitlyn Menz (7-6, 3.41 ERA, 64 strikeouts) and Haley Hestekin (6-4, 1.71 ERA, 41 strikeouts) will be sure to face off against Rutgers this weekend. The Badgers’ combined team ERA is 2.81, much better than the Knights’ 3.78 team ERA.
Rutgers will counter with two of its best pitchers, sophomore Cambria Keefer (5-7, 3.16 ERA, 26 strikeouts) and junior Whitney Jones (6-5, 3.20 ERA, 24 strikeouts).
With their hitting statistics practically the same, the Badgers clearly hold the upper hand in pitching. Wisconsin also holds a minuscule advantage in fielding percentage, with a .959 percentage compared to the Knights’ .954 percentage.
The Badgers are also quick on the base paths, something Rutgers will need to prepare for, as Wisconsin has swiped 35 bases this year, which is 10 more than the Knights’ 25 stolen bags. The Badgers also have a much higher RPI ranking, which is ranked 43rd nationally, while Rutgers sits just outside the top 100 at 107th.
The Knights will have momentum coming off of their last win against Bucknell, where they scored 6 runs in the final inning to stage a 10-9 comeback win.
“I'm glad to see them fight back until the end,” said head coach Jay Nelson, according to scarletknights.com. “It shows there's no quit in this team. We were waiting for our pitches and being patient. We also had some great hustle plays that kept us alive during that final inning.”
In order for Rutgers to steal the series in Madison, it is going to have to rely on its hitting to overcome the powerful duo of Wisconsin’s pitchers.
After the Badgers, the Knights will play their first home games of the season, with a three-game homestand against Penn State (3-18), who ranks 219th nationally in RPI.
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